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Life in the UK: Navigating the British Education System

Being a parent, this topic is very close to my heart, particularly at the moment as we starting our research into secondary schools for our son. The UK offers excellent education options, however I am finding that doing my research is really essential in this journey as it is a very different system to the one I am accustomed to.

In this blog post, I will share some key facts about the English education system hoping it can offer helpful insights to ensure a smooth transition for your children too. I will focus on the standardised UK education facts in this post, and I can cover apprenticeships, which are deeply integrated in the Swiss system and rising in importance in the UK, in a separate post.

1. Compulsory Education: In the UK, education is compulsory for children aged 5 to 18, although it is customary for children to start just after their 4th birthday, and usually expected. The education system is divided into several stages, including primary, secondary, and further education.

2. School Year and Terms: The UK academic year usually begins in September and ends in July, with a six-week summer holiday. The length of the holidays varies by school and location. There are three terms: autumn, spring, and summer, with shorter breaks in between. It's essential to synchronise your family's schedule with the school terms as taking unauthorised absences can be penalised by a fine.

3. School Types: In the UK, you'll encounter various types of schools, including state schools, academies, grammar schools, and independent (private) schools. State schools are funded by the government, while independent schools require tuition fees. In areas with very good state schools, it is very common for people to move especially to the area as entry into most state schools is based on post code and the addresses closest to the school will get priority. It is pretty unbelievable how high house prices can rise near the best schools due to the demand and parents moving to the area, often just to get into their preferred school.

4. School Uniforms: Most British schools have a strict dress code, requiring students to wear uniforms. The school uniform policy is often easy to find on the school's website and you can purchase most items in advance from designated shops for items requiring the school logo. For standard items such as grey or black trousers, or white shirts, often the school will specify that you are free to buy these in standard shops where the designs are very consistent and better value. School shoes here are also really built to last, and for younger children, I have found Clarks or Start-Rite are the go-to option for many parents.

5. Curriculum: The British National Curriculum is followed in most schools, and it is divided into several key stages, with standardized subjects and learning objectives. In our experience, there is usually a main teacher supported by a teaching assistant for the key subjects, and specialist teachers for languages, science, information computer technology (ICT), Physical Education (PE) etc.

6. GCSEs and A-Levels: In secondary education, students typically take the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) examinations around the age of 16. Later, they can pursue Advanced Level (A-Level) qualifications, which are crucial for university admission.

7. School Applications: When choosing a school for your child, you'll need to be aware of the application process. For school admissions in the state sector, is a very good starting point providing the key information and deadlines you will need. For fee-paying schools, you will need to research the requirements for each school.

8. Special Educational Needs (SEN): If you have a child with special educational needs, the UK education system provides accommodations and support services. It is worth discussing this further with the school to understand the support available.

9. Extra-Curricular Activities: Schools usually offer a wide range of extra-curricular activities, from sports to arts and music in the after-school clubs. These are usually are very price-competitive and places get filled very quickly. For the most popular clubs, in my son's school at least which is in Central London, getting a place is very competitive and parents are often have tricks to quickly fill out the entry form as soon as the registration opens, with places filling up often in less than a minute! It is pretty unbelievable at times!

10. International Schools: If you prefer an education system that's more aligned with the Swiss curriculum, you can also consider international schools which offer international curricula, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) program


The British education system offers a rich and diverse learning environment. However, understanding its intricacies is crucial in making the right choice. As I am going through the learning process myself at the moment, please do not hesitate to drop me a comment below and I will happily share or discuss any insights I have.

In the meantime, enjoy your research and embrace the adventure of a new academic environment for your children!



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